'A 12-hour day is normal'

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DAVID ROSS is a surgeon at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He regularly works a 10 or 12 hour day but as a junior doctor is exempt from the Working Time Directive.

"My day officially starts at 7.50am and just goes on until it finishes. One day a week I am on call overnight which adds a further 16 hours to the shift and once every three weeks I am on call from Friday morning until Monday morning followed by a normal day's work.

"Yesterday was my afternoon off and I didn't finish until 7.30pm.

"But I think doctors have to be exempt from the working directive because you have to get the clinical experience when it's there and that will not necessarily fit into a nine to five daily routine.

"Many surgical traumas do happen late at night and if a young doctor is around then it is a chance to learn."

He said there needed to be a system whereby doctors could build up their confidence without compromising their private lives but restricting them to a 48-hour week was not necessarily the answer.

"Medicine is an apprenticeship not a science and doctors need to put their theories into practice and if that means working long hours and seeing as many cases as possible then that is the only way to do it. Of course there is a fine line between training and exploitation but it is nothing like as bad as it was ten years ago.

"If you work as a doctor and there are patients coming in all the time then you cannot just down tools at 5pm and go home.

"But many of them do feel that it is a job and that they should be able to hand over to someone at the end of the day but it doesn't work like that in practice.

"In certain branches of medicine you might be able to set up a 48-hour week but not in surgery," he said.